What Olympians Can Show Us About Setting Big Goals

The Problem With Goals
You wouldn’t know it from browsing the self-help aisle of your local bookstore, but scientists are beginning to question whether focusing too much on goals runs counter to long-term performance and general well-being. In a Harvard Business School report titled “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting, a team of researchers from Harvard, Northwestern, and the University of Pennsylvania set out to explore the potential downfalls of goal-setting. They found that overemphasizing goals — and especially those that are based on measurable outcomes — often leads to reduced intrinsic motivation, irrational risk-taking, and unethical behavior.

What Olympians Can Show Us About Setting Big Goals

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The argument for mastering one thing at a time

If you want to master multiple habits and stick to them for good, then you need to figure out how to be consistent. How can you do that?

Well, here is one of the most robust findings from psychology research on how to actually follow through on your goals:

The scientific argument for mastering one thing at a time

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How to pick a field in two minutes

Road and trees

Dick Bolles:

When a woman is packing for a trip, she may throw in “this little frock, which can go anywhere.” Likewise, when a man is packing for a trip, he may throw in a dark blue blazer, again because “it can go anywhere.”

This idea, that you have something which could fit into a number of different situations, is probably the best introduction possible to the concept of “transferable skills.”
Briefly stated, this concept holds that your basic skills – whether they be “organizing,” or “analyzing,” or “writing,” or “teaching,” or “planning” – are like that frock or blazer: they can go anywhere.

Therefore, you have to decide where you’d be happiest employing your transferable skills, because – believe me – where you’d be happiest is also where you’d be most effective.

This is called “picking a field.” Sounds easy. But I have learned over the past forty plus years that there is no subject where job-hunters and career-changers bog down more, than in figuring out their favorite field; so let me try to cut through the thicket by offering you ten ways to approach this.

The Two Minute Crash Course on How To Pick A Field

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Want to improve your presentation skills?

If one of the things you want is to improve your presentation skills, why not take a minute to consider Potential Energy:

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What focus means…

“Steve was the most remarkably focused person I’ve ever met in my life,” Ive said. “And the thing with focus is, it’s not this thing you aspire to, or you decide on Monday, ‘You know, I’m going to be focused.’ It is a every minute, ‘Why are we talking about this? This is what we’re working on.’ You can achieve so much when you truly focus.”

He added: “What focus means is saying no to something that with every bone in your body think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you end up saying no to it because you’re focusing on something else.

Jonathan Ive on what he learned about focus from Steve Jobs.

I have never been good at this, always distracted by another shiny thing but something about the purity of this kind of focus has a deep, visceral appeal. Not sure why.

This is the first in a short series looking at what focus means and how to get more of it.

Thoughts for today:

Focus is less about choosing one thing to concentrate on and much more about saying no to 100 other things.

And it’s not an added extra. If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority.


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Two quick tips for unpleasant jobs


This’ll only take 30 seconds.

I really love doing this.

January can be a drag and somehow all those irritating jobs which come with living seem worse in the grey cold. So here’s a couple of things you can try because sometimes a spoonful of sugar does make the medicine go down.

Have you ever put off a job – piles of washing up, clearing garden rubbish, vacuuming the car – only to surprise yourself how quick it was, once you started? You know, the jobs where if you’d just got on with it instead of agonising about it, it would be done in half the time?

Try this. Next time you look askance at the washing up pile, say firmly to yourself (or even out loud) It only takes 30 seconds to wash these up. or This’ll only take 30 seconds. Try it. You might surprise yourself.

Of course I know it takes more than 30 seconds but not much more if you plunge in and get on with it. Somehow the reassurance of a quick task makes it easier to plunge in.

And for added sparkle – I love doing this.

Scenario 1 – there you are, bent over the toilet with a brush. Your mouth is grim, your shoulders tight. Your internal dialogue grumbling away in a diatribe about crappy jobs, the cold and the fact that someone else in your house should be doing this. Not pretty is it?

Scenario 2 – there you are, brush in hand, saying to yourself This only takes 30 seconds and scrubbing away, I love doing this. For added benefit you can even smile.

Those jobs will be over in a trice.

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A light in the darkness


For years the priests had copied the words. As each scroll wore out they’d make a new one, copying the words they knew meant hope:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

But what did they mean and where was this hope? Centuries passed. Where was the God of the old stories? Were they even true?

Two hundred, three hundred years went by. A foreign power invaded and looked as if they were there to stay. Darkness stole over the land, hope faded. Nothing from God. Radio silence.

The bureaucracy of these invaders turned the land upside down. Everyone had to travel to their ancestors village to register so the state could tax them. One young couple, among others made homeless by politics, set off.

They cover a distance equal to the journey from Newcastle to London, on foot. (A donkey is a later addition to the story.) Walking from village to village or sleeping in the open, the days are hot but the nights bitter. And she’s pregnant.

Arriving at their destination, the inn is full but there’s a cow shed. The innkeeper’s not heartless but what can he do, the woman is about to give birth. She goes into labour. We don’t know who delivers the baby — her husband or the village midwife perhaps. It’s cold and refugees from the displacement fill every room. They wrap the baby in some cloth and lay him in the feeding trough to keep him warm.

To the puzzlement of both parents some shepherds interrupt them. They’ve come looking for a new baby on the strength of a light they’ve seen out on the hills. The shepherds kneel by the small child then go away, wondering.

Someone takes pity on the little family and invites them into a home in the village. A bit later some Persian astrologers also come to the house in search of the child. Led there, they say, by a new light in the sky. They leave money and embalming spices when they go. His mother wonders what this all means.

The parents faith requires them to take the child on another long journey. They have to take him to the temple so they can perform a ritual to dedicate him to God. An elderly priest, who sees the child, says he will be a great leader and save his people. But this will have serious consequences for his parents. ‘A sword will pierce your heart’, is how he describes it to the child’s mother.

Back home, with a toddler now, life refuses to leave them alone. They have to flee, again, because the local king has heard of their son. People have been whispering about a child who will be king, and he is paranoid. “Kill the child” he orders.

But the family have gone. In their rage, and fearful of displeasing their employer, the soldiers slaughter all the baby boys in the village.

So God comes to His world. A light in the darkness. Not to a palace, not to a clean, sterile hospital. In the dirt of village life, among the poor of a conquered country.

Much later, someone remembers the old prophecy:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

When the child grew, He said this about Himself – “I am the light of the world”.

They killed Him for this claim.

But it’s the kind of light you can’t extinguish with nails.

Happy Christmas.

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